James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
With the passing of the Cold War, global hegemony seemed America's for the taking. What others saw as an option you, Paul, saw as something much more: an obligation that the nation needed to seize, for its own good as well as for the world's....Bacevich explains much more about the Wohlstetter / Wolfowitz grand view. And then he poses the challenge that he says Wolfowitz should now meet:
Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.
In an instant, you grasped that the attacks provided a fresh opportunity to implement Wohlstetter's Precepts, and Iraq offered a made-to-order venue....In Iraq the United States would demonstrate the efficacy of preventive war.... The urgency of invading Iraq stemmed from the need to validate that doctrine before the window of opportunity closed.
One of the questions emerging from the Iraq debacle must be this one: Why did liberation at gunpoint yield results that differed so radically from what the war's advocates had expected? Or, to sharpen the point, How did preventive war undertaken by ostensibly the strongest military in history produce a cataclysm?Anyone who knows Andrew Bacevich's story will understand the edge behind his final sentence. But you don't have to know that to respect the challenge he lays down. I hope Paul Wolfowitz will at some point rise to it.Not one of your colleagues from the Bush Administration possesses the necessary combination of honesty, courage, and wit to answer these questions. If you don't believe me, please sample the tediously self-exculpatory memoirs penned by (or on behalf of) Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Bremer, Feith, and a small squad of eminently forgettable generals...What would Albert [Wohlstetter] do? I never met the man (he died in 1997), but my guess is that he wouldn't flinch from taking on these questions, even if the answers threatened to contradict his own long-held beliefs. Neither should you, Paul. To be sure, whatever you might choose to say, you'll be vilified, as Robert McNamara was vilified when he broke his long silence and admitted that he'd been "wrong, terribly wrong" about Vietnam. But help us learn the lessons of Iraq so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there. Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country.
I still believe that many people, perhaps especially in Washington, don't understand what a searing, formative experience the whole run-up to the war was for a generation of Americans--maybe more than one generation. (I'm 46.) The obvious propaganda campaign, the clearly trumped-up WMD scare campaign, the bullying that was the functional equivalent of redbaiting directed against naysayers, and finally the invasion itself: This disaster transpired in broad daylight, in slow motion, with millions around screaming for it to stop. But the Beltway crowd would not stop. Who could have witnessed this with eyes open and not be terribly, terribly sobered about the state of our political system, and the trajectory of our country?To address briefly the final point: my judgment as of the springtime of 2002, as a reporter and a civilian, was that I had no special leverage in addressing the legal-and-moral wrongness of the war. I thought it was wrong to attack a country that hadn't attacked us, and said so in interviews and on shows. I thought the main additional information / judgment I could bring to the discussion was airing the unanimous view of experts in the region, and in military occupations, that "regime change" would unleash a host of other consequences that together would be worse -- for America, for the region, and arguably for Iraq -- than continuing to exert "non-kinetic" pressure on Saddam Hussein.
While I agree entirely with your critique of the war as summarized at the end of your post, it does focus on the invasion as a strategic blunder for the United States. Surely it was. But was not the fundamental issue the invasion's sheer lack of moral and legal justification? This was plainly a war of aggression against a country that had done nothing to us and posed us no threat. George W. Bush and his enablers made my country a rogue nation when they embraced the atrocious doctrine of preventive war, previously associated closely with fascist regimes. This is the worst of all, and for this there has been no accounting at all.
Robert Art, Brandeis; Richard Betts, Columbia; Dale Copeland, Univ. of Virginia; Michael Desch, Univ. of Kentucky; Sumit Ganguly, Univ. of Texas; Alexander L. George, Stanford; Charles Glaser, University of Chicago; Richard K. Hermann, Ohio State; George C. Herring, Univ. of Kentucky; Robert Jervis, Columbia; Chaim Kaufmann, Lehigh; Carl Kaysen, MIT; Elizabeth Kier, Univ. of Washington; Deborah Larson, UCLA; Jack S. Levy, Rutgers; Peter Liberman, Queen's College; John J. Mearsheimer, University of Chicago; Steven E. Miller, Harvard University; Charles C. Moskos, Northwestern; Robert A. Pape, University of Chicago; Barry R. Posen, MIT; Robert Powell, UC-Berkeley; George H. Quester, Univ. of Maryland; Richard Rosecrance, UCLA; Thomas C. Schelling, Univ. of Maryland; Randall L. Schweller, Ohio State; Glenn H. Snyder, Univ. of North Carolina; Jack L. Snyder, Columbia; Shibley Telhami, Univ. of Maryland; Stephen Van Evera, MIT; Kenneth N. Waltz, Columbia; Cindy Williams, MITTo make this impolitely specific and blunt: before the next talk-show booker, op-ed page editor, think-tank event coordinator, or other gatekeeper on public attention invites the next Bush-era veteran or former advocate of invading Iraq on to share his or her wisdom, I ask that they include some people from the list above, or others whose judgment looks better rather than worse with the passing years.
In order to rally American opinion towards invading Iraq, the George W. Administration needed to: 1) reverse the verdict on Vietnam; and 2) reverse the verdict on the related Powell Doctrine. Colin Powell was a product of Vietnam. The Powell Doctrine mandated limited goals, quick action and the use of overwhelming force as key criteria in deciding the use of US military force. Powell's goal was to keep the US out of frivolous, unnecessary and quagmire-inducing wars, the three qualities most attributed to the Iraq invasion!4. Cowardice pays. From a friend who was in government through the Iraq-Afghanistan era:
The neoconservatives in and around George W.'s War Cabinet were busing airbrushing the lessons on Vietnam and the Powell doctrine throughout the 90s. All those 'realists' associated with H.W. Bush and the first Iraq War were put on the defensive after 9/11 and vilified as 'appeasers' for not invading Bagdad in 1991.
The political system actually worked at holding the prosecutors of Vietnam accountable: Johnson resigned, the Church committee held contentious hearings, the CIA was 'tamed.' Everything associated with or against the war was Big News.
But, as you said, after Iraq the neocons remain. They are the walking dead. One reason may be the difference in nature between the two wars. Soldiers were drafted in the '60s, a volunteer army serves today. No one could escape Vietnam, but if you knew no one on the front lines in Iraq, you could tune out the bad news. And although President Obama busted through the finish line (2008) because he opposed the Iraq invasion, he has not drawn sharp lines against the George W. Bush Administration and neoconservative dogma.
So, in 2013, we face a serious situation. The Administration hasn't presented any over-arching framework for pursuing American power or redefining the US role in the world. It is neither a strong voice against neoconservatism or strong one for realism. The Obama Administration read the public disgust with foreign adventures by refusing to arm the Syrian rebels. On the other hand, in bombing Libya, it continued to tramp over the Powell Doctrine. By expanding the use of drones, it's ushered in a whole new approach to modern warfare. All without debate. What happens when other countries arm their drones? Do we need eight aircraft carriers along with precision flying machines?
There you have it: a vacuum into which all sorts of retread, base or hypocritical ideas of foreign policy have been pushed.... We are in a self-perpetuating loop. Those who don't know do all the talking; those who do know keep their mouths shut.
1. The past isn't past: Some of the worst failures in the Iraq debacle have-- by never really being punished-- become enshrined as matters of both policy and national identity. To take just one glaring example: Abu Ghraib was the most sickening instance of institutionalized abuse by the US military to have come to light since at least the Vietnam War, arguably far longer. Yet not a single officer was truly punished for it (BG Karpinski, who wasn't even truly responsible, got a one-grade demotion; nobody except a few NCO's served a day in the brig). Needless to say, not a single civilian politician suffered even a career setback. The result: Every policymaker now knows that there are no genuine limits on what you can get away with: At worst you'll end up like John Yoo, with cushy tenure and plenty of lucrative speaking deals. [NOTE: The incoming message originally and incorrectly said "John Woo," who is a film director, rather than John Yoo, the Bush Administration lawyer.]
2. Cowardice pays. Every policymaker knew, or should have known, that allegations of WMD were wildly overblown at best, and pure fiction at worst. This information was available to everyone with a security clearance (everything that would subsequently come out about Saddam's purported nuclear and biological programs was available: I read it all, and was briefed on it, while the war resolution was being debated; the only surprise was the non-existence of chemical warfare stocks, which were always a red-herring for Americans outside of Iraq and its immediate neighborhood). A case could be made that war supporters were duped by neo-con hawks in the Administration and their cheering-gallery in the media-- but the information was there, and there were plenty of informed sources telling policymakers the truth. Nobody can claim they weren't warned.
I've had a similar reaction to politicians and pundits (virtually always on the right, it seems these days) who assume that just because they are for something, the people on the other side must be against it, or vice versa.A reader in Connecticut says we are seeing a grown-up, political-world version of schoolyard bullying:
So, if they think there should be "less government," then the rest of us all think the answer to every problem is "more government." Or because they purport to be single-mindedly focused on less spending, the rest of us are for out-of-control spending. It puts a straw man front and center and then bashes it, which the press doesn't call out enough either.
I am particularly amused by the current meme that somehow the blame lays at Obama's, and by extension, the Democrats' feet. So they have to give in because everyone understands that the Republicans are so set in their views that they won't change, so it's up to Obama to compromise?Another reader, Shreeharsh Kelkar of MIT, offers a social-science explanation:
I think that this ties in with the new attention that Emily Bazelon has given to the problem of bullying with her book [and related Atlantic article] Sticks and Stones. One thing that hasn't been pointed out is that bullying exists, even in adults. Furthermore, bullying by supposed adults often works at the highest levels of politics and business. In sum, if a group of kids acted like the Republicans in Congress, refusing ever to even even acknowledge that there are legitimate points of view that contradicted their own, and refusing to do anything unless they got their way completely, wouldn't the teacher think that they were attempting to bully the rest of the class?
I share your frustration with the false equivalence that's practiced by the big newspapers.Indeed this is an analysis I've thought about before -- thanks to Starr's book, and Jay Rosen's, and many others', and Breaking the News back in the 1990s. But I had not known about the "boundary work" label, which is usefully clarifying. It's a long road ahead.
But I wonder if I might offer a perspective on bipartisan think based on my discipline: the history and sociology of science.
You say in one of your posts that the thinking behind it seems to be that reality is somewhere between the positions of the two parties. And there's something to that. But I think one of the ways of explaining it is using a concept called "boundary work."Boundary work is a kind of rhetorical work that is performed in public argument: something is asserted to be science by stressing what it is not (pseudo-science, or faith, or religion, or what have you). Even Tim Geithner did it in his exit interview when he painted his own work as just a kind of technocratic problem-solving rather than politics, see this analysis.
It seems to me that our political discourse also contains a similar kind of boundary work -- between "politics" and "policy." Our politicians will always say: what I'm doing is just plain old common sense or the right thing or just good policy, or just the solution to a problem; whereas what my opponent is doing is playing politics. And if one sees politics as actually a way of managing relations between conflicting groups of people, one can see why they do that.For instance, reforming the American health care system is almost certainly a matter of redistribution: taking money from older people and giving it to others (the uninsured, younger people, etc.). But one can't say that if one is a politician, and so there is a delicate balancing act: one's own work is constructed as problem-solving and policy-making, the opponent is portrayed as playing politics (where politics is understood to be trading off between different social groups).
I think this kind of boundary work exists in journalism too (and more on why it exists later); it's what you call false equivalence (and Yglesias calls bipartisan think). Here the newspaper is seen as above politics, which is what grubby politicians do. And therefore the contrast between the policy that the newspaper is advocating (which is not politics but merely good moral sensible stuff), and that what the politicians are doing. It is imperative, I think, in this model that both parties be painted in the same brush. Because if you don't, then you agree with one of the parties, which therefore makes you political.
Why should the newspapers practice this kind of boundary work? My sense (which comes straight from Paul Starr's history of the media) is that it's a holdover from the times when the newspaper industry changed. As we all know now (from arguing about partisanship), newspapers in the 19th century were unabashedly partisan. They also catered to niches, and made money from subscriptions. And that changed sometime in the 20th century when newspapers started to make money from advertisements -- and therefore they had to be less partisan and attract more people. Hence the objective tone of the reported stories (he says, she says) -- and also I think the false equivalence of the editorials.
Interestingly enough, we're now back in more partisan times, thanks to the Web. And it's interesting to me that you, Matt and others who call the editorials on their false equivalence operate in a completely different new media ecosystem; you have readers of a certain kind and stripe (but lots of them thanks to the reach of the Web), you don't really need to be bipartisan. But I think the example of Ezra Klein proves my point: ever since he's moved to the Washington Post, he's a lot less rough(er) on Republicans than he used to be. He won't fall into the false equivalence trap for sure but he's certainly adapted to a different audience. (I think it's great that he's reaching more people).
So - I don't think the WaPo is ever going to abandon its false equivalence model; not unless it becomes a completely new kind of WaPo (which it might very well become!).
I don't mean to suggest of course that all editors are dumb actors acting out a premediated sociological script; just that the roots of false equivalence go pretty deep into our current system.
I suspect this analysis is not particularly new to you (with some jargon added!).
I've been in the Air Force for a little over four years, and was in training for four years before that. I've recently returned from a small cantonment in the desert, and am stationed overseas in the western Pacific. And I'd like to tell you that the sequester is having a very real effect on our lives here.
But first, a brief recent history lesson. As long as I've been in the Air Force - even when I was a cadet and we were in the midst of two wars, the military has tried to do more with less. In 2006, the Air Force cut down its personnel numbers in an effort to save money that could be used on newer planes. Naturally, the less people meant there was a higher deployment tempo - people were heading to the desert for longer amounts of time and more often. To make up for the smaller number of military personnel, contractors and civilians were asked to take on a bigger role.
I'm sure you've heard about how big a presence contractors have in these wars - the reason for that is a government attempt to save money. Shortly after that, when the recession hit and the stimulus came and left, again we were in a "constrained fiscal environment," as our leadership likes to tell us. For the past 3 years, we've been cutting back, spending less on staying trained and ready, trying to decide what training we could go without for the short term until things get "back to normal."
And now that sequester has hit - while we're still in Afghanistan, mind you - what is it that the military is cutting? We're not cutting any missions - all those will continue on, somehow, despite a cut to half of our operational budget. But instead, our training and readiness funds have been cut to the bare minimum. The belief is that it'll come back when things go "back to normal." But worst, of all, our benefits have started to get cut. DOD civilians - who have grown in number as uniformed personnel have shrunk - have just been given a 20% paycut across the Pacific. And for the military, college tuition assistance funds have disappeared across the services.
I don't know whether to rant against Congress, or our military leadership, including the President. I know Congress is responsible for the sequester. But it's the Pentagon who has decided to cut pay and benefits rather than cut missions. We've been doing "more with less" for a half a decade now, all while waiting for things to "get back to normal." Is this really what the people, what Congress wants? That our military is now prepared to do just as much as it did before, but without a force as well trained as before? And with civilians and military taking a significant haircut?
Even if you think the military has gotten too "entitled" with our free healthcare and assistance for college - there are still people fighting out there in a dangerous place. I'm back safe and sound, andwas lucky to have a quiet deployment. recently But I have more than a few friends getting shot at, mortared, and getting blown up while driving down bomb infested roads. Can't we wait until after 2014 before doing this?
I don't know if I'm making a false equivalence in blaming both the executive and the legislature and the pentagon, but frankly I don't care. I understand the military has to share in the burdens of thecountry - but why are our entitlement programs the first to go? The Murray budget plan includes still more military cuts, while the Ryan plan instead is nice enough to just go after veteran's programs. And this isn't even the policy argument talking about our 30-50 year old planes, ships, and weapons. And I know that the military is only feeling part of the pain - the same thing is happening in every federal program across the country.
And all this so that some big shot millionaire can keep his Bush tax cut?
A Death in the Family
By Wen Stephenson
We got the news, of course, on Twitter: "Thank you Boston. Good night and good luck."
That tweet came yesterday afternoon from the Boston Phoenix, the storied but struggling alt-weekly, for which the current print issue will be its last. There will be an online-only issue next week, containing an important piece by my friend and fellow climate activist-journalist Bill McKibben. And then the rest is silence.
But a lot of us can't stay silent, and won't. There are a great many people in Boston right now, and around the country, who care deeply about everything the Phoenix has always represented, right down to the end -- smart, fearless, fiercely independent journalism -- and want to say a few things about what this means for our impoverished media landscape. Many thanks to Jim for lending me this space to offer a few words of my own.
I was proud to be associated with the Phoenix, even if briefly. My cover story last fall, called "A Convenient Excuse" (right), took serious issue with the way our mainstream media has covered -- or failed to cover -- the climate crisis. One of the places I criticized was The Atlantic (though I spent seven years as an editor at the magazine, from 1994 to 2001, and still have friends there). [JF note: see my discussion of that piece.]
The Phoenix has run three more of my pieces on climate and the climate movement in these past four months (you can find them, for now at least, here); the last one was just this week, an online piece about a stunning student-led protest against the Keystone XL pipeline at the TransCanada office in Westborough, MA, in which 25 (mostly young) climate activists were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience (a remarkable local story, with national resonance, that the Boston Globe, incredibly, has failed to cover).
There's a reason I'm mentioning these pieces, and it's not to promote my own work (ok, maybe just a little; I'm a freelance writer who just lost my main outlet!). In all sincerity, it's to pay heartfelt tribute to my editor, the guy who commissioned and expertly edited these pieces -- the last editor-in-chief of the Boston Phoenix -- Carly Carioli.
To put it simply and bluntly: Carly championed not only the climate issue but, equally important, the young and increasingly powerful grassroots climate movement, at a time when virtually no one else (outside of environmental blogs and magazines) could be bothered to give them a serious thought. Those pieces of mine -- to my utter amazement -- went somewhat viral, garnered national attention to the Phoenix, and put the climate movement on the map for a lot of readers. I know an awful lot of people right now who feel a piercing sense of loss, and powerlessness, and quite frankly, real anger, knowing that the only widely-circulated publication in Boston paying serious attention to climate change has gone away.
In today's paper, the Globe's editorial page had an eloquent euology for the Phoenix, where editorial page editor Peter Canellos, like a long list of other accomplished journalists, spent some formative years of his career. Acknowledging the Phoenix's "proud journalistic tradition," the editorial notes that the alt-weekly's audience "was anyone who believed that powerful institutions and other engines of society deserved a kind of scrutiny that went beyond mere reporting, and who wanted to see the fundamental ills of the social order exposed." And it concludes:
Now, with Thursday's announcement of the Phoenix's demise, much will be written about the paper's impact on local politics, music and film criticism, and the various journalistic careers it launched. It's a substantial legacy, by any measure. But better to focus on the careers that might not be launched, the questions that might not be asked, and the stories that might not get told.
Yes, it's a little ironic to read that on the Globe's editorial page, in whose offices (as I described in the Phoenix) I protested the paper's lack of climate coverage. We can only hope that the Globe -- or somebody -- will fill the void now left on Brookline Ave. in Boston.
Point of the Mountain is a paragliding and hang-gliding site located on a ridge just a few miles south of Salt Lake City. More free-flight pilots have earned their wings there than any other site in the USA. It has been such a part of the culture there for decades that it was designated as a Flight Park years ago, but that apparently is of no concern to a mining corporation which-- with no warning-- began strip-mining the site a couple days ago....The bulldozers are just enormous. People woke up in the morning and saw the mountain had literally changed shape overnight. Hang-gliding and paragliding are still relatively unknown to the public. Imagine general aviation pilots losing Oshkosh, surfers losing Maui, climbers losing Yosemite, skiers losing Vail... much of the general public would grasp the significance. The Point is like that for free-flight pilots.To me it's another demoralizing example of "Capital don't give a sh*t". It's not that capitalism as we practice it immoral or evil, any more than a swarm of locusts is. It's just amoral and relentless, remorseless. I've come to think of capitol as being like Plutonium: incredibly powerful and useful, but it needs to be carefully managed and contained, and for God's sake don't allow madmen to get their hands on it.Well, as if you need me to tell you that. You've experienced what it's done to China's air, water, and soil.
I recognize that this theme now lacks novelty value. But here is why it matters to track an engineered usage-change as it is underway:The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a hugely controversial ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, but the measure faces nearly certain defeat on the Senate floor....The Senate now faces a floor fight in coming weeks over Democrats' push to dramatically alter U.S. gun laws for the first time in two decades. While the Feinstein assault weapons ban is unlikely to overcome GOP opposition and get a vote -- as well as concerns from red state Democrats up for reelection in 2014 -- Democrats and the White House will continue their drive to enact universal background checks on all gun sales.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, acknowledged that the assault weapons ban will have a hard time overcoming opposition. "It's pretty clear the other side is locked in opposition [to assault weapons ban.] -- [I] don't see us getting 60 votes," Whitehouse said, referring to the necessary bar to pass the Senate.
It wouldn't take any extra space to make things clear. The first highlighted passage could say "nearly certain filibuster" rather than "nearly certain defeat." The last passage could say "necessary bar to break a filibuster" rather than "necessary bar to pass the Senate." To look on the bright side, the middle highlighted reference is exactly right: the strategy is designed to keep the proposal from ever coming to a vote. (Thanks to AS for the lead.)
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.
Serious RSS users aren't into it for the luscious jpegged beauty. RSS feeds, taken straight, are a wall of text. That's useful when you want to let news wash over you, to scan screenfuls of headlines without waiting for extraneous pictures to load. When I want to absorb a lot of information fast--which is to say, always--I don't have time for Flipboard. I want exactly what Google will be taking away from me this summer.
Let's see if we can make a better case for Iraq. I was a "liberal hawk," and I think I still am. In part I guess I was encouraged by the silence, or ecouragement, of the ex- Clintonites, and nobody beat the drum harder than the New Republic. [JF note: unless it was the WaPo's editorial page.]But the reason I supported the war, and still suspect it was the least bad choice, isn't one you've addressed and it's one I find opponents tend to evade. I mean, sure, get rid of a bad guy, yes, maybe WMD, whatever. But the reason I thought we should go to war in 2003 is that the status quo ante really, really sucked.I had been in the Arab world in the '90s and seen constant angry footage of people starving in a crumbling Iraq, held in that state by the U.S. military (I read figures of civilian lives lost, which are horrific -- and remember the UNICEF figure of 6,000 children under age 5 dying each month due to sanctions before the war). The large US military forces in Saudi Arabia protecting the Kurds, Basra and Kuwait infuriated folks -- remember it was bin Laden's big bitch -- and it ended soon after we went into Iraq. We had -- I think unwisely, but nonetheless -- effectively created client states in the North and South of Iraq dependent on US protection, and nobody has tried to make the case that there was any way to return Iraq to the Ba'athists without ugly consequences for those groups. And I've had the opportunity to speak with the airmen who flew the missions in support of that protection while under Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, and over a decade of that really dangerous work took a toll on them and their families. So I think the "let's not go to war" case might've been superior -- but let's not kid ourselves that it wasn't ugly, too.In the early 2000s, the Bushies I think made the best of all possible options in pushing so-called "smart sanctions," saying, look, we're stuck in this mess for the long haul so let's invest the manpower to try real real hard to keep certain things out of the regime's hands, and get as much food and medicine into Iraq as we can. And I think they did the diplomacy OK -- at least, before the thing went up for a vote in summer 2001, other countries were making the right noises about it. There had just been an awfully contentious election, folks at least where I was were _mad_ and I heard a lot of crap about Bush trying to push this thing through the UN because of his pathological hatred of the Iraqis -- but it was crap. "Smart sanctions" was a good idea, actually. And it died an ugly death at the UN, so your choices at that point were, somehow unseat the regime, or continue with the sanctions regime as it was.There are an awful lot of hard counterfactuals here. Who knew the Bushies would throw away a decade of expertise and interest in Iraq? And I have never understood why we needed to shepherd in a hand-picked government or even occupy the place -- I couldn't give a crap who rules Iraq so long as they know that if they mess with the populations in the North and South under U.S. protection they're going to get smashed -- but the war went the way it did and it was ugly, and we learned a lot of things about military accountability that, well, we're probably better off for having learned but it wasn't good. Certainly I didn't appreciate the importance of international "legitimacy" and alliance-building. But still I wish folks who opposed the war would have to append "I was for the continuation of the sanctions regime and basing forces in Saudi Arabia" (or else, "I was for the lifting of sanctions, and let what happens to the Kurds and Shi'a, happen") -- because it's a useful reminder that there wasn't a great path out of that hole. Some stuff's just really hard.
The whole democracy thing fatigues me. Since Nebuchadnezzar, every regime that has set out to attack another regime has done so with multiple public justifications (yes, even the most totalitarian). In the age of mass media, the justifications have become more elaborate, but all of the rationales boil down to three basic themes: (1) they were going to attack us first (aka the Texas manslaughter defense: "I was just protecting myself in advance"); (2); that other regime is really awful; and (3) the people groaning under the rule of that regime will be much better off once we invade and depose the regime. The Bush administration employed slightly different rationales for whichever audience it was trying to convince, but its main themes fit the historical template. All the bloviating about exporting democracy to the Middle East drew mainly from rationales (2) and (3).
What struck me at the time of the Iraq invasion was that the neoconservatives and their fellow travelers, mainly Republican but also some Democrats, frequently displayed the most touching devotion (in public) to bringing democracy to the suffering peoples of the Middle East while evincing a high degree of cynicism (mainly in private) about how "Arabs only understand force." In some cases it wasn't even concealed, as Thomas Friedman demonstrated:"What they [meaning Iraqis] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um, and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?" You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This. . . . We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That's the real truth." (Charlie Rose, 30 May 2003)
Not mentioned (this time) on your blog among the justifications for invading Iraq is what my "connected " (to Cheney and/or Rumsfeld) GOP friends told me during the run-up to the war, namely that although Saddam Hussein was not hosting terrorists himself, other nations were doing so with impunity because they believed the US would never strike their countries (as distinct from striking the terrorists), so they could sort of have their cake and eat it too.
The US, having discovered on 9/11 how vulnerable it was ("soft defenses, etc.") needed to buy a little time by forcing the terrorists out of the safe harbor host states, thereby disrupting them for that time-buying purpose, while we "hardened" our defenses against terrorist attack. By showing the leaders of the host states that we could step in and overthrown a head of state such as Saddam Hussein, we would be demonstrating that we could do the same thing to them, too. Thus their reaction to our invasion of Iraq would be to kick the terrorists out of the safe harbors, for fear of being toppled by a US invasion themselves...
I recall saying, "Well, that's at least an explanation, but it has never been told to the American people."
To which the reply was, "We can't tell the American people, because we don't want the terrorists to recognize how vulnerable we are, how soft our defenses against them really are."
To which I said, "The terrorists presumably already know precisely how soft our defenses are; it would be the American people who don't, but who would if this explanation were offered in public." I also said, "This is why you should not go to war for reasons you don't disclose - disclosure allows the logic of your reasons to be tested," and I was pretty sure this purported reason could not withstand a public test.
Wiser folks than I have long observed that when there are several or many purported reasons for taking a particular course of action , rather than one agreed-upon reason, it often turns out that was really no reason at all for that course of action. I still think this observation is probably true for why we went to war in Iraq. We did not have a real reason.
My sense from afar is that an "oh, it's not really that bad" attitude is setting in about America's permanent-emergency approach to public funding. This is a reminder that it really could be that bad. And on that point, a scientist I know in California has written:It's not yet clear how much funding the National Labs will lose, but it will total tens of millions of dollars. Interrupting -- or worse, halting -- basic research in the physical, biological, and computational sciences would be devastating, both for science and for the many U.S. industries that rely on our national laboratory system to power their research and development efforts.Instead, this drop in funding will force us to cancel all new programs and research initiatives, probably for at least two years. This sudden halt on new starts will freeze American science in place while the rest of the word races forward, and it will knock a generation of young scientists off their stride, ultimately costing billions in missed future opportunities.
When I was a kid, in the 1970s, there were about 2000 'operational' weather balloon sites that released balloons synchronized to be in the middle of the troposphere at 00 and 12 UTZ daily.
When I did a survey of how many there were in 2000, there were about 800. There are myriad reasons, the relative poverty of many countries that can't afford to pay for the programs and geopolitics among them.
The number is about to drop precipitously due to a contrived crisis by a rich nation.
I am deeply ashamed for my country.
TSA ... might not be willing to admit it, but they seem to have come to terms with two simple truths.The first is that a potentially deadly sharp object -- a knife, if you will -- can be improvised from virtually anything, including no shortage of materials found on airplanes. Even a child knows this....The second truth is that, from a terrorist's standpoint, the September 11th blueprint is no longer a useful strategy....Conventional wisdom holds that the attacks succeeded because 19 hijackers took advantage of a weakness in airport security by smuggling boxcutters onto jetliners. And conventional wisdom is wrong.What the men actually took advantage of was a weakness in our thinking, and our presumptions of what a hijacking was, and how one would be expected to unfold, based on the decades-long track record of hijackings.
"Now is not the time for reduced vigilance," he said in a statement, "or to place additional burdens on TSA agents who should be looking for dangerous items, not wasting time measuring the length of a knife blade."
Patrick Smith makes the sanity-restoring counter point:"In the confined environment of an airplane, even a small blade in the hands of a terrorist can lead to disaster."
We need to get past the emotionally charged style of security-think that ultimately makes us less safe. These new measures are sensible, and meanwhile TSA can, or should, concentrate or more potent threats to safety -- your safety as well as mine -- such as bombs and explosives.As does former TSA director Kip Hawley, here. Meanwhile politicians who give in to fraidy-cat reactions make it harder ever to evolve a sustainable security policy. That would be one in which we guard against the most catastrophic threats -- in the airlines' case, onboard explosions -- and concentrate on dangerous people -- while accepting other risks as the price of a free, non-police-state life. The politicians now fretting about the TSA have slowed the process of restoring normal free American life.
Kaplan bases part of his analysis on a book I found extremely useful and have often recommended in this space. That is A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin, which presents a history of the decaying Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century that should have guided our decisions about that same area in the early 21st.Ten years later, it's clear that the Iraq war cast "a very large shadow" indeed, but it was a much darker shadow than the fantasists who ran American foreign policy back then foresaw. Bush believed that freedom was humanity's natural state: Blow away the manhole-cover that a tyrant pressed down on his people, and freedom would gush forth like a geyser. Yet when Saddam Hussein was toppled, the main thing liberated was the blood hatred that decades of dictatorship had suppressed beneath the surface.
OK. Let's suppose you believed this. What, exactly, does it mean? What does Obama do tomorrow? Or, better, "today"?And beyond politics, on many of the biggest challenges you're going to need ideas from Column A and Column B... [Y]ou can't solve the debt challenge without raising more revenue and controlling entitlement costs... Eventually, in other words, you're going to have to wheel and deal and compromise -- you're going to have to govern. It might as well be now.
Imagine that Mitt Romney had decisively defeated Obama in the 2012 election on a platform of tax cuts for the rich and deep cuts to government as the only way to reduce the deficit, dramatically repudiating the President's call for higher taxes on the wealthy, continued implementation of the biggest expansion of the safety net in 60 years, and more government spending to boost the economy.The reassuring aspect of this signed piece is insight as to whence the unsigned editorials arise.
Then imagine that Democrats in the Senate (the only part of government they controlled) responded to this by proposing to dramatically expand health care and stimulus spending and pay down the deficit only with 100 percent tax hikes -- and not a single penny more in spending cuts -- and on top of that, then suggested President Romney has failed to sincerely try to find common ground with them.
He would tell his audience of the effect that the explosive devices... had on units' morale, and give them, as a rallying cry, the conclusion that one casualty, without a leg or arm, needed four men to bring him back from an explosion and a helicopter to fly him to the rear...The wars have rolled on, with most of America not noticing. I am writing this item mainly to suggest that Brian Mockenhaupt's essay, in particular, will make you reflect on the choices the country has made.
He spoke, too, of the medium-term damage to troops' psychology, if they had been exposed to situations where bombs were widespread, particularly if there had been casualties in their unit: a larger number of enemy combatants in the Iraq war had gone home with post-traumatic stress disorder, as sick as if they had been severely wounded, and would not return.
Foreign reporters flaunt their Mandarin skillsYes, I did notice the "with a big smile" touch; and this story caught my eye mainly because I find it droll. At the same time, I am trying to imagine the counterpart in America: a Secretary of State Clinton or Kerry hearing a question from a German or Japanese reporter and, before answering, noting that the questioner's English is "so good" that it can actually be understood. It's another little marker on the long road of China's developing a sense of ease as an international presence and power.
Caroline Puel, French magazine Le Point correspondent in Beijing, was surprised twice on Saturday at the press conference with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Besides getting a chance to ask a question out of the hundreds of reporters at the scene, Puel also got high marks from Yang for her Chinese.
"Your Chinese is so good I can understand your question without asking you to repeat it", Yang told her with a big smile.
Cyber security has become an increasingly prominent issue as security threats in a peaceful era, and seems another way for Western powers to apply pressure to contain China's rise, they [various Chinese officials] say.
Wen Weiping, a professor at the School of Software and Microelectronics at Peking University, put forward his explanation on the belligerence.
The US believes it is justified to launch military attacks on any country that launches cyber attacks threatening its cyber space, he said, and it must raise a fuss against such alleged attacks to build up a case. Wen said the US also aims to strengthen its cyber security forces as a deterrent and maintain its advantage during the information war.
In a question-and-answer session following Henry's pitch, one of the panel's three judges, a software billionaire named Shi Zhuyu, asks Henry whether he is just a "floral piece" for his company. At first, Henry looks confused, and the show's host -- thinking that perhaps Henry had become lost in the rapid-fire Mandarin -- interjects to clarify:
"Are you just one of those good-looking but useless CEOs?" she asks.
"I got it the first time," Henry replies with a grin. "I was just waiting for him to ask a bit more tactfully."
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|Blind into Baghdad||Boiled-frog|
|Brave little USB||Budget|
|China Airborne||China Daily|
|China Menace||China Today|
|Copenhagen||Crisis of the press|
|Doing Business in China||Dreaming in Chinese|
|Going to hell|
|Ideas 2009||Ideas 2011|
|Obama||Obama in Asia|
|Occupy Wall Street||Olympics|
|Public health||Reader comment|
|Security Sanity||Security Theater|
|Self-pity and its discontents||Small Business|
|Volcano||Walk like an American|
|Wine||Year end pensee|
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